This spring, I had the honour of travelling to El Salvador, where Plan International is working with local communities to uproot harmful gender norms, promote girls’ rights and empower youth. I soon learned that one of the biggest barriers facing young women in El Salvador is adolescent pregnancy.
According to the UN Population Fund (UNFPA), in 2015 there was an average of 69 adolescent pregnancies per day, amounting to approximately three pregnancies an hour. In total, 30 percent of all pregnancies in El Salvador are teenage pregnancies, from girls aged 10 to 19.
These statistics paint a grim narrative, but thanks to the continuous contributions of ours donors, I was fortunate enough to witness another story during my visit. A story of hope and change.
In the communities where Plan International works, the percentage of teenage pregnancies has fallen to zero. Because of our donors’ support, girls in these communities have the agency and awareness to realize their sexual and reproductive rights. We also work to educate young men on girls’ rights and gender equality, creating grassroots champions of change. Equipped with knowledge and resources, these youth are creating a very different future for El Salvador than the one depicted in statistics.
As CEO of Plan International Canada, I know the incredible impact your donor dollars have on the lives of youth around the world. Yet as I visited the youth involved in our programs, I was able to see this impact come to life through their passion and optimism.
Members of a local Because I am A Girl (BIAAG) club told me their lives had been forever changed since joining the club. Many of these girls aspired to attend University but were being pressured by their families to get married or devote their time to household chores. But as members of the club, these girls had learned about the transformative power of education. Armed with confidence and agency, they were able to stand up for their futures. They refused to give up on their dreams, and many of the young women I met were University-bound.
I also had the opportunity to meet with a local Youth Advisory Council, whose members work together to tackle the pressing challenges and issues facing young people in their community. These young women and men explained to me that, before they joined the council, their futures seemed bleak and uncertain. Faced with violence and few employment opportunities, many youth become subsistence farmers, flee the country through an extremely dangerous and often deadly journey, or are forced to join a gang, perpetuating the cycle of violence and victimization.
But through their involvement with Plan International, they were emboldened to hope again.
One young man in particular had a message he wanted me to share with you – Plan International’s Canadian donors.
He wanted me to tell you that because of your contributions, he and his friends can imagine a future that is bright and brimming with promise.
He told me that the council has empowered them to become leaders and champions of change, engaging other youth in their community through open and positive dialogue.
He told me that together they are helping girls and boys realize their rights and claim their futures.
This is the lasting impact your donor dollars have on this young man, and on the lives of millions of youth around the world. Your support not only gives children a chance to survive, but to also thrive and lead their communities toward peace, prosperity and sustainability.
On behalf of each and every girl and boy I spoke with during my visit to El Salvador, I sincerely thank you for your continued support, generosity and belief in the power of youth to change the world.